Wednesday, September 8


Read Rolling Stone's fascinating profile of Dick Cheney:

But the following year, another powerful person decided to confer great nonelective power on Cheney. When President George H.W. Bush named him to head the Defense Department, the Senate unanimously confirmed the choice. Not a single senator seems to have considered it anomalous that control of the strongest armed forces on earth was being conferred on a person who had gone to notable lengths to avoid service in those same armed forces.

Appointed to another powerful position, Cheney promptly went about screwing it up. He pushed to turn many military duties over to private companies and began moving "defense intellectuals" with no military experience into key posts at the Pentagon. Most notable among them was Paul Wolfowitz, who later masterminded much of the disastrous strategy that George W. Bush has pursued in Iraq. In 1992, as undersecretary of defense, Wolfowitz turned out a forty-page report titled "Defense Planning Guidance," arguing that historic allies should be demoted to the status of U.S. satellites, and that the modernization of India and China should be treated as a threat, as should the democratization of Russia. "We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role," the report declared. It was nothing less than a blueprint for worldwide domination, and Cheney loved it. He maneuvered to have the president adopt it as doctrine, but the elder Bush, recognizing that the proposals were not only foolish but dangerous, immediately rejected them.

By the end of the first Bush administration, others had come to the conclusion that Cheney and his followers were dangerous. "They were referred to collectively as the crazies," recalls Ray McGovern, a CIA professional who interpreted intelligence for presidents going back to Kennedy. Around the same time, McGovern remembers, Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft counseled the elder President Bush, "Keep these guys at arm's length."

In November 1992, when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, Cheney had his second president shot out from under him. He knocked around Washington at various neoconservative think tanks for two years, and the old pattern repeated itself: Powerful benefactors once again gave Cheney a big break. As Dan Briody recounts in his book The Halliburton Agenda, Cheney was on a fishing trip in New Brunswick, Canada, with a group of high-powered corporate CEOs. "The men were discussing the ongoing search for a CEO at Halliburton," Briody reports. "Cheney was asleep back at the lodge and, in his absence, the men decided that Cheney would be the man for the job, despite the fact that he had never worked in the oil business."

Halliburton was Cheney's first real chance to get rich; he grabbed it with both hands. His principal action was his acquisition of a subsidiary called Dresser Industries. Dresser struck lucrative deals with Saddam Hussein; Halliburton did business with Muammar el-Qaddafi and the ayatollahs of Iran. By the time Cheney left in 2000, Halliburton's stock was near an all-time high of fifty-four dollars a share. Then it turned out that Dresser had saddled Halliburton with asbestos lawsuits that could cost the company millions, and the stock plummeted to barely ten dollars a share. Even with the bounce Halliburton stock has received from the war, an investor who put $100,000 into the company just before Cheney became vice president would have less than $60,000 today.
Since Cheney lived in Texas at the time, choosing him led Bush into a situation that, if the words of our Founding Fathers still have any meaning, is unconstitutional. The Constitution forbids a state's electors from voting for candidates for president and vice president who are both "an inhabitant of the same state as themselves." Yet by voting for Bush and Cheney, electors in Texas did precisely that. Cheney lived in Texas, had a Texas driver's license and filed his federal income tax using a Texas address. He had also voted in Texas, not in Wyoming, a state where he had not lived full-time for decades. [emphasis mine: How do these guys GET AWAY WITH IT ALL?]
As vice president, Cheney has been the decisive force pushing America into war. In the inner councils of the administration, it was he who emasculated Colin Powell, cut the State Department out of effective policymaking, foisted fake reports on the intelligence agencies and supplanted the National Security Council. It was also Cheney who placed appointees personally loyal to him, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, in charge of the Pentagon and speckled the warmaking bureaucracy with desk officers culled from neoconservative Washington think tanks -- ideologues with no military experience.
Over at Defense, competent intelligence professionals were purged in order to ease the way to war. Douglas Feith, brought in under Rumsfeld to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, applied an ideological test to his staff: He didn't want competence; he wanted fervor. Col. Pat Lang, a Middle East expert who served under five presidents, Republican and Democratic, in key posts in military intelligence, recalls being considered for a job at the Pentagon. During the job interview, Feith scanned Lang's impressive resume. "I see you speak Arabic," Feith said. When Lang nodded, Feith said, "Too bad," and dismissed him.
As the disaster has unfolded in Iraq, he has continued to insist against all evidence that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, that the dictator was aiding Al Qaeda, that nothing the Bush administration has done was a mistake. Those who have known him over the years remain astounded by what they describe as his almost autistic indifference to the thoughts and feelings of others. "He has the least interest in human beings of anyone I have ever met," says John Perry Barlow, his former supporter. Cheney's freshman-year roommate, Steve Billings, agrees: "If I could ask Dick one question, I'd ask him how he could be so unempathetic."

It's a question Cheney is unlikely ever to answer. Throughout the years, he has sealed himself off from the possibility of such inquiries. The most famous example is his draft evasion during the Vietnam War. He has never candidly discussed his feelings about the war, the traumatic, formative event for American males of his age. Only once, in fact, has he even answered a question as to why he avoided serving.

"I had other priorities," was all he has ever said.


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